Review: Johnny Depp headlines a great cast in a by-the-numbers gangster film

“Black Mass” features loads of fine acting, but it pales in comparison to other classic gangster films it desperately aims to be.

            Spanning multiple decades in South Boston, “Black Mass” tells the true story of criminal mastermind, James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp). When a Mafia family is starting to threaten Bulger’s territory, he teams up with his childhood friend, FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), to become an informant in order to take the family down together. The allegiance causes problems for both sides as it becomes unclear who is really running the operation.

            What follows over the course of the 122 minute runtime is a handful of genre clichés. While the film is based on a true story, the filmmakers just use that as an excuse to show the audience typical gangster stuff- violent headshots, loads of profanity and double-crossing galore. Although at times it does work effectively, it still has a slight “been there, done that” feeling.

            The one thing “Black Mass” has going for it, however, is the performances. There is enormous buzz surrounding Johnny Depp’s performance, and while one could argue whether or not this is his best performance, it is certainly a welcome return to form for the actor.

            Instead of being campy and over the top (see “Mortdecai” and “The Lone Ranger”), Depp dials it back and delivers a more emotional performance. While his physical presence is certainly felt, it is more in Bulger’s quiet moments that Depp owns the role. The film asks Depp to portray a wide range of emotions- from violent and aggressive, to broken and emotional- and he is dynamite during every minute of it.

            The film also has standout performances throughout its enormous cast. Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch are particularly good as they are given more time to flesh out their characters. Most of the big names in the cast (like Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll) are fine in their very limited screen time.

            Overall, “Black Mass” is an average gangster film that will most likely just be remembered for the performances. It does not recreate the wheel, and while that might not be a problem, it certainly is not all that memorable. Hopefully the next great Johnny Depp performance is used in something a little more ambitious (and I’m not talking about “Pirates of the Caribbean 5”).